Sunday, November 29, 2009

Federal Funds for Urban Parks on the Way?

On October 6th, Alboi Sires (D) from NJ introduced the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act (H.R. 3734). which would bring much needed funding to urban parks. The Bill currently has 87 sponsers and is making its way through various committees. One major omission from the Federal stimlulus plan passed in February (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) was the lack of funding for park projects. Much of NYC's park system for instance was built from federal funding under the WPA program under Robert Moses in the 30's.

A few important questions arise: If passed how will these funds be prioritized and spent. NYC has come under intense criticism for its lack of community based planning and consultation in its park and open space projects. Also will the final Bill contain provisions which would protect these investments and if so how.

Text of Bill:

"To authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to establish and carry out an urban revitalization and livable communities program to provide Federal grants to urban areas for the rehabilitation of critically needed recreational areas and facilities and development of improved recreation programs, and for other purposes. "

Two Federal programs — The Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — have provided tens of millions of dollars to NY City parks over more than three decades .

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) program provides matching grants to States and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. The program is intended to create and maintain a nationwide legacy of high quality recreation areas and facilities and to stimulate non-federal investments in the protection and maintenance of recreation resources across the United States.

LWCF came under fire for its handling of Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx as part of the Yankee stadium development project. The feds allowed public parkland improved with LWCF funds in the 70's to be given to the NY Yankees to build thier new stadium. By law, any park receiving money from the LWCF must remain a park in perpetuity, unless the National Park Service decides that new replacement park land is of equal (or greater) value, usefulness and location. Proposed projects must also consider "all practical alternatives" before parks are seized.

But rather than conducting its mandated review, the National Park Service issued a "Finding of No Significant Impact" based purely on the state's and the city's flawed analysis and project "goals and objectives." Evidence came out that they had conspired with both the city and State parks. NYC Park Advocates and Metro learned that for more than a year, National Park Service officials were exchanging e-mails not only with the city and the state but with the New York Yankees.

The Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) program was established in November 1978 by Public Law 95-625, authorizing $725 million to provide matching grants and technical assistance to economically distressed urban communities. The purpose of the program is to provide direct Federal assistance to urban localities for rehabilitation of critically needed recreation facilities. The law also encourages systematic local planning and commitment to continuing operation and maintenance of recreation programs, sites, and facilities. The program's funding was stopped in 2002.

Read More:

Washington Considers Funding Parks to Rebuild Cities
gothamgazette - November 30, 2009

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